by Karen M. Johnson
Grand Champion appears to have landed in the perfect spot to earn his first open stakes win in the $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct Nov. 22.
The Thanksgiving Day feature drew seven runners. Park Avenue Ball is the 134-pound highweight in the ungraded, six-furlong dirt race.
Grand Champion, a 4-year-old gelded son of Two Punch, won his stakes debut against restricted company in the Oct. 13 Maryland Million Sprint Handicap at Laurel Park. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Grand Champion didn’t begin racing until this year.
Despite the late start, he has made the most of his nine trips to the starting gate, having won four races. He has been among the top three finishers in each of his starts. With the exception of his career debut, Grand Champion has been the favorite in each of those races.
Jerkens said Grand Champion had chips removed from each of his ankles before he reached the races.
“We would get him going and then had to stop on him a million times,” Jerkens said Nov. 19. “This is a tough spot, but he has been consistent and game for us.”
Grand Champion is owned by Susan and John Moore, who have enjoyed a very lucrative relationship with Jerkens. Among the stakes winner trained by Jerkens for the Moores are Iron Deputy, Voodoo, and Smokey Glacken.
Eibar Coa rides Grand Champion, who carries 130 pounds and drew post four.
If you like Grand Champion, you must consider City Attraction, who defeated Grand Champion by a neck in a Sept. 19 allowance race at Belmont Park. The Richard Dutrow Jr. trainee has had several solid works since that effort in recent weeks at Aqueduct.
Javier Castellano rides City Attraction, who totes 130 pounds and drew post five.
Bishop Court Hill, a 7-year-old gelded son of Holy Bull, will try to regain the form that earned him a victory in the 2006 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct for trainer Todd Pletcher. Bishop Court Hill will make his first start for trainer Tom Albertrani, who is tied in the standings for first place with six winners from 18 starts at Aqueduct’s fall meet.
Bishop Court Hill is coming off two sub-par efforts, but Albertrani is hopeful the gelding will show his old spark in the Fall Highweight.
“He had been with (trainer) Mark Casse at Woodbine and wasn’t training well over the all-weather track,” Albertrani said Nov. 19. “I got him about three weeks ago, and he has been training well; I’m encouraged by that. We hope to get him back to his old form.”
Bishop Court Hill, a speed horse, drew the rail and figures to be prominent in the early going with John Velazquez aboard. He carries 133 pounds.
Park Avenue Ball, who leads the field in earnings with $1,043,900, is without a win in six starts this year. When he was at his best, the 5-year-old son of Citidancer excelled at his home base at Monmouth Park, and won last year’s Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. III) there for trainer Jim Ryerson.
In his last start, Park Avenue Ball was badly beaten in the Monmouth slop in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Oct. 26. He finished seventh, beaten 37 ½ lengths by the winner, Corinthian.
Trainer Bill Mott, always a threat with horses coming off long layoffs, has entered Around the Cape, a graded winner on the turf. Around the Cape, who packs 130 pounds, hasn’t run since November 2006.
Debussy (126 pounds) and Joey P. (131 pounds) complete the field.